Colusa County Sun-Herald
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Mushroom plant owners and NOMO go nose to nose
BY KATHY CRAIGO
A group calling itself NoMO [no more odor] went 'nose to nose' with one of the Colusa Mushroom Plant owners this week during an agendized discussion at the Colusa County Board of Supervisors meeting.
President of Colusa Mushroom, David Cerini, tried to placate an already agitated group of homeowners whose homes are within smelling shot of what they call the 'smell of death,' coming from the composting at the Plant.
For several months the partially completed mushroom plant has been used to manufacture compost for its sister-plant in Petaluma while construction of the Colusa plant continues.
Early in the discussion on Tuesday, NoMO spokesperson Jeff Poppinga, recalled an occasion in February 2003 when he arrived at his home on Sanborn Drive and was overtaken by a very identifiable odor; the odor of death.
Recently, the noxious odor prompted NoMO members to circulate a petition in protest of the odor they say is coming from the Colusa Mushroom Plant. That petition bearing 300 signatures was presented to the board by Poppinga on Tuesday. The petition calls for the plant to be closed down until all construction on the plant has been completed.
In his presentation Poppinga accused that people living in the area near the mushroom plant have lost their freedoms of things like having a barbecue in their backyards, or opening their windows.
He also alleged that in addition to the noxious smell, the composting at the plant may be emitting health risks as well.
Poppinga quoted from a 1998 British Columbia study which depicted the use of forced aeration, bio filters and acid scrubbers much like those being proposed for use at the Colusa plant. According to the report, these things did not eliminate the odor nor did they eliminate the bioaerosols which were contaminating the air.
"The study provides compelling testimony that bioaerosols are hazardous at the distance of 2.5 to 3 miles, yet actually travel in the air in much the same way as anthrax, making this distance to be seven miles. People have residences less than a mile away from the Colusa Mushroom Plant," Poppinga warned.
He continued to explain that the result of exposure to these bioaerosols for some people is fungal mold infections [aspergillosis,] severe asthma attacks, and a variety of throat and respiratory problems.
He further supported these allegations by reporting that there is presently one known case in the Walnut Ranch area of a fungal mold infection which has eroded the palate of the patient and attacked another quarter-sized area of the throat.
"This person will be undergoing plastic surgery to repair the damage to the palate so she will be able to talk," he said.
Additionally, Poppinga alleged there were quite a few documented cases of pneumonia in the effected area of Colusa County, and many individuals with unusual respiratory ailments.
While the battle cry of NoMO calls for the immediate closure of the plant until it has eliminated the odor problem, the owners of the plant, as well as Colusa Industrial Properties [CIP] owners of the plant site, continue to ask the homeowners for their patience, all the while assuring them that those involved in the project are doing their very best to solve the problem.
In a letter to the Board, and in testimony during Tuesday's meeting, CIP President, Ed Hulbert, assured the board and NoMO members in attendance that the project has received almost daily attention from several citizens involving calls to local and state agencies.
"This has been the most scrutinized and regulated business we [CIP] have ever developed" he said.
Hulbert reported that the bunker roof for the plant was completed on Jan. 28, 2004 within the timeline he had outlined at the Jan. 13, 2004 board meeting.
"The filter system started operation on Jan. 28, 2004, and initial results are positive and indicate elimination of odor from the captured steam/airflow off the bunkers," he said.
Hulbert said the final piece of the filter, the ammonia scrubber, would be added within two weeks as well as a larger fan.
"Because there is still compost turning, shipping and movement in and out of the bunkers, there will continue to be some odor" he said. "We believe the enclosed bunkers will reduce the overall odor substantially and reduce movement off the park," he added. "As I discussed at a previous board meeting, we are engineering a 35,000 square foot building to cover the entire wharf and resolve the odor issue. This final stage of construction is estimated to take three months," he concluded.
However, the time frames presented by Hulbert and Cerini at Tuesday's meeting appeared to be a problem both with NoMO and with the board.
Board Chairman, Mark Marshall, admonished both Hulbert and Cerini, sayng it was important that they understand the concern of the citizens and the board.
"You have been before us in the past with time frames that have come and gone," Marshall said. "Now we need the assurance and hard facts to support that you understand this is a serious issue, and that you will consider it as such."
While Cerini testified to the $4.5 million Colusa Mushroom has already spent in Colusa County, he also estimated that although mushrooms were not yet grown at the site, production would begin with its first planting in April 2004 with an estimated first line of mushrooms produced six weeks later. He anticipates a production load of 60,000 pounds of mushrooms per week with 20 employees on board. He said that production would double to 120,000 pounds per week and an employee base of 63 employees by November 2004. The plant currently employees nine individuals.
Additionally, Cerini promised that Colusa Mushroom would be a good neighbor as well as a quality producer.
Again, Cerini speculated that once the enclosure is completed at the site the odor problem would be 90 percent solved.
"However, I can't guarantee 100 percent odor elimination," he said.
Hulbert said CIP has apologized publicly for any discomfort it has caused local citizens.
"We have devoted the financial resources to correct this problem as quickly as possible," he said.
"We appreciate the support of the board and the Colusa City Council and we look forward to the elimination of odor moving off the mushroom facility. We can then focus on the important economic benefits this company will add to Colusa County," Hulbert said in a letter addressed to the board and the city council.
Marshall encouraged Cerini to work with the NoMO representatives to come to an understanding. While Cerini did meet with NoMO members in an impromptu conversation following the meeting, neither party came away completely satisfied.
While Cerini stated that CIP and Hulbert "have had it 'up-to-here' with his company," he still urged NoMO members to be just a little more patient, asking them to give him at least another 75 days to complete the project, at which time he said they would quit making compost. This time frame was unacceptable to the NoMO members.
Poppinga told Cerini, they appreciated hiscoming to Colusa to keep the lines of communication open, however, he suggested the plant would have better served the community if it had been placed in an alternate location.
"The plant is awesome for Colusa County, but it should have been placed far out in the country," Poppinga said.
While NoMO requested the board to exercise its power given to it by mandating the enactment of a performance bond containing specific and prompt deadlines that would require Colusa Mushroom to fully eliminate the odor or cease operation, no action was taken by the board on Tuesday. Additionally, NoMO requested that a full environmental impact report be completed before another load of compost is processed.
"That which we are smelling, we are inhaling," Poppinga reminded the board.
The issue will next appear as an agendized item on the March 9 board agenda. Marshall advised that NoMO representation and Cerini should attend that meeting. And while Cerini commented that his company had not directly received complaints, he did suggest that calls should be directed to the company's hotline at 624-7940. Calls can also be made to the state at 1-800-952-5588.